Sonyae Elise, the singer and songwriter on “Platinum Hit” who did not play an instrument or read music, was crowned the winner of the first season of Bravo’s songwriting competition on Friday. Having released a mixtape, “Lady Rebel, Vol. 2,” during the break between taping and the final announcement, Elise is already in the studio working on her first album.
BMI-repped Elise, born and raised in northern New Jersey and currently based in Los Angeles, won $100,000 cash, a publishing deal with Sony and a recording deal with RCA/Jive. In an exclusive interview with Billboard.com, she shared her thoughts about the show’s first season, hosted by Jewel and head judge Kara DioGuardi.
The premise of the show was to throw budding songwriters together and have them collaborate on a specific idea and return with a song in an allotted amount of time. What kind of effect has that had on you?
The pressure made us better writers. It’s pretty true to how I already work, usually I’m a bit more laid back in sessions, kind of observing. I sit back, think a lot and then spit it all out. I don’t let anything fly at the end of the day that isn’t for the good of a song. … The show prepared me to meet deadlines, to be more specific (in my writing) and it took it to another level. A lot of those challenges are real and you either get it done on time or you are out of having a shot at having a single (recorded).
Everyone else showed up with guitars and keyboards, but you just belted out songs. You could see at the beginning that there were doubters among the contestants. Did you ever feel you were at a disadvantage?
Little did they know that it never bothered me. I’ve always worked with the best producers, but to them I looked out of place. I’m a topliner. So is Drake and Ne-Yo and Kara. They don’t play instruments. (Other contestants) were at a disadvantage because when you’re collaborating you need people to do different jobs. If they didn’t see me as an equal… even when I was picked last I fought my way through.
What are your three favorite songs that you wrote?
“Love Me to Life,” “Stranger to Love” and “Miss Make the Boys Cry.” I’m really proud of some of the other contestants’ songs.
“Bettin’ My Life on You” by Johnny Marnell and Brian Judah. The vibe. That was one of my favorite sessions that I wish I was a part of. “Where I Want to Be” — Scotty (Granger) — that had a good energy and really felt right. That was as catchy enough to stick in you head like a pop song.
It’s a reality show but we know what makes it to TV is not always truthful. Any moments when things didn’t feel right for you?
The first week when there was no time to know what everybody does and you’re just settling in. Once I had a chance to see what’s going on with everyone I was good. But then we didn’t know what (the judges) wanted.
Kara DioGuardi appeared to have a kinship with you. Did you sense that and were there other judges that played significant roles in your development?
I grew to love Jewel as we went along. Kara paid attention to me and I’m told she loved my aggressiveness. I was trying to know everyone but I could see Kara being a mentor — that tough love is something I need. She is somebody I would listen to.
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to write songs?
I have a lot of old stuff at my mother’s house, notebooks and things with scripts and lyrics written in them. I did a lot of theater — ‘Grease,’ ‘The Lion King’ — and I wanted to write music for plays. Lyrics came naturally to me. I listened to a lot of pop music and KRS-One and MC Lyte and I saw (writing) as a way to express my thoughts.
What’s next for you?
Everything is in the studio. I’ll be doing some showcases in New York and New Jersey, hosting a couple of things, but designers have been hollering at me. I’m getting some love from the fashion world and I’d like to see where that goes.